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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Chapter VII. — The Final Preparation of a Nation's Talent for the Struggle of Life

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Chapter VII.

The Final Preparation of a Nation's Talent for the Struggle of Life.

The University College ought to have the finest talent of a district to develop.

If the school period, primary and secondary, abbreviates the long evolution of man through the prehistorio ages, his primitive life and the nascence of civilisation, the university period should be an abridgment of his historic evolution, his rapidly-accelerating mastery of Nature and self; and the distinctive feature of this is the specialisation of his powers, his sciences and arts, and as a corollary his strengthening insight into the processes of Nature, with the resulting liberation from her despotism. In the first two stages man is in the making, in the last he is made. The faculties and character are in their final mould; the career is mapped, in outline at least.

Should the three educational stages have been properly coordinated, and should the gateway to each he open and free, and the sifting processes that ought to mark the exit from the first two have been efficient, there should be concentrated in its universities the finest talent of a nation. Unhappily, there is as yet anything but educational coordination in each locality, and the existing examination system but roughly sifts the fit from the unfit. It appeals too exclusively to one set of faculties, the intellectual, and to one of these, the memory. A large percentage of a nation's ability and promise never gets near its university gates. The bulk of this is lost; a small proportion of it, through exceptional strength of will or ambition or fitness for the sensuous and imaginative arts, the realms of precocity, forges its way to the front in spite of all disadvantages or obstructions. If a nation had any regard for its progress it would see that every talent, every individuality, every fountain of original ideas and impulses was brought under the fullest influence of its educational system. In other words, the sifting processes at the gateway of each stage in it should cover the whole of human nature and not a mere section of it. The examination system should be broadened; else it should be abolished and advisory councils of selection take its place.

The University College should foster every new and useful variant in faculty, tlanet, character and idea, and abandon its coaching lectures and textbooks.

The ideal university, as the crown of our ideal educational system, should have all the promise of a nation gathered within its walls, and should see that it is not maimed in its proces of fruition. It should have no shibboleths from religion, politics, caste or tradition. It should give, like properly organised society, a free career to all the talents. The future leaders of every sphere, every profession, every science, every art should come within its walls into the freest and fullest competition that its life is capable or offering. It should be an arena in which its titans of all kinds should train and exhibit their best energies unhandicapped. In it no vacant position in the whole country but should easily find the proper man to fill it. Instead of university-bred talent being a byword for failure in so many spheres, it should become the synonym of success. The whole people should trust the university as the final sifting and refining process for every special talent.

For individuality should be the keynote of this as of all other parts of the education system, how to shelter and develop every new end useful variant in faculty, talent, character and idea. The difference here is that this aim should he supreme and easily attained. The differentiation for life careers has begun in earnest. The university includes different professional schools that train for the varied skilled callings of the nation. In fact, this is taken as its distinction from the secondary school. But if this were all, there would be no inherent necessity for bringing them together into one institution. It is a tradition from the period of the infancy of modern science; then, though printing had made books cheaper, it had not made them cheap enough to pass out of the hands of the few; the function of the university was, therefore, the communication of all available knowledge, and, as the profession differentiated, all available knowledge in each sphere. The professor or lecturer was supposed to traverse the whole of hie subject in his course.

And this ideal still obstructs the evolution of universities, by turning their staffs into coaches that cover every year the same barren round, even page 39 though there are cheap textbooks available to perform the same duty more thoroughly. The habit is enough to fossilise the most energetic mind is creation. And we have seen in the old adversities men lecturing who had been at this treadmill for half a century, beyond all possibility of being awakened from their hypnotic and hypnothing sleep. Nay, the universities of the newer lands are manufacturing similar museum-specimens. And the generation of unfortunate students pass through their classrooms as som-[unclear: lent] and as untouched by the growing life outside as their teachers, with only now and again a Rip-van-Winkle look in their eyes, as some echo from it seems about to awaken them. A professoriate of this sort has solved the problem how to simulate life whilst dead.

It is time that a such institutions and methods and manuale as thus attempt to cover all knowledge of a subject were carefully secured in the glass-[unclear: ses] of our museums. There is no possibility of keeping pace with knowledge in a progressive world, and this should have killed such aims long ago. Even in the days before cheap printing it was beyond the individual life. Now even in the separate profession or science or subject the effort to cover the whole ground is certain to destroy the vitality of the teacher. Yet this is the aim of much of the work in universities, as one can see by the manuals still publishing. Specialisation and intensive treatment are clearly indicated even on a superficial view of universities. But the old lecturing system, meant to give an abstract of what is known on the subject or section of a subject. Still persists and is taken as the deferentiation of the university from the secondary school. Ill-spelt, ill-written, undecipherable notebooks to be [unclear: everishly] crammed before the examination are the chief result. For it is the restricted examination system of appealing to one faculty above all that keeps the false idea alive.

Laboratory practice is essential in all subjects; the languages especially, if they are to keep their old footing, must become both practical and literary, and must excersie all the faculties.

Laboratory practice, learning by doing is a modern differentiation between the two stages. But, instead of distinguishing, it should be the common characteristic of, all teaching. Whatever is merely abstract and incapable of being applied to practical life, or of being demonstrated by practice or in the actual framework of existence should be kept for, the study of the philosopher. No fact should be communicated without testing how far it is grasped by the pupils; indeed, it would be safer to say that every fact should be causally stated so that it should appeal at once to some other faculty than the memory. No theoretical principle should be given unless it can be shown in concrete form or result. Not the university lecturer alone, but the teacher at every stage, should eschew the strings of isolated facts and maxims that form the favourite preparation of students for final tests of their knowledge.

It is the subjects of the Arts course and especially the languages, that lend themselves most to this disastrous waste of human time and tissue. The purely linguistic treatment tempts students into it; they fill their notebooks with grammatical and textual criticisms, and then make pate de foi gras of their brains by means of them for the final examination. And, when a period of literature is set, the same process goes on; series of names of authors and books distend the notebooks and finally the memory to portentous fatness. There is no effort made to appeal to the reason or the imagination or the knowledge of life, no effort to connect the literature with history or with the time and life of the authors, or with the human nature that it is meant to express and reveal. One can see this plainly in the favourite textbooks; there is little evidence in these of even their writers having read more than a small percentage of the books criticised, and none of their having attempted to use their reason on the causes of the phenomena they are supposed to deal with. Nothing can be more deadening. It cannot by any distortion of the meaning of words be called education. No wonder the lecturers flee for their very lives to translation, which does exercise some other section of the brain than memory, at least where the dictionary or crib is not always at the elbow and textual comment is reduced to a minimum. That so noble a subject as literature should be reduced to such a pass is no credit to modern university methods. To merit again the old name of "humanity," it will have to bring the highest faculties of the student into play, appeal to his finest emotions and knowledge of life, stimulate and practise his powers of thought and expression. And if that is not done, and done soon, the so-called literary subjects will vanish before the crusade that is more and more vigorously pushed against them by the sciences.

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But the sciences by no means appeal always to the highest faculties even in their laboratory work. There is more need in all subjects of conferences between teacher and student for discussing problems and difficulties.

But the sciences are anything but free from similar defects. Avowedly they hare lit tie or no influence on the moral nature or character. Their claim is based mainly upon their development of the reasoning powers and observation and imagination; but a large amount of the student's time, thanks to the examination test, is occupied in getting up textbooks or notes of lectures that summarise all available knowledge on the subject. And in this there is as much predominance given to the memory as in languages. It is the laboratory practice that is supposed to differentiate the sciences. But in much that is done here there is no exercise of the higher faculties, no use made of the practical reason or the practical imagination. It is humdrum and automatic and may evade the exercise of observation, the very power it is supposed especially to stimulate. The fact of the matter is that laboratory practice does not distinguish between the university stage and the secondary. There is and there ought to be a predominance of it in all stages; the pupils should learn chiefly by doing. And in languages, especially in English, the high schools are ahead of the universities for this; they deal with famous books in such a way as to develop in the pupils the character, the use of imagination, and the manipulation of ideas and speech; courses of reading fill their minds with new thoughts and supply them with fuller and more aptphraseology; and the art of composition is practically taught,—the truest application of laboratory practice to a literary subject.

It would really be better for our modern universities if they returned more to the [unclear: meuieval] method of defending a theme, which the Renaissance, with its discoveries and its new stores of knowledge, led them to despise and reject for the lecture and the written examination. Were the laboratory and lecture-room turned oftener into an arena of discussion and conference, there would be less dead knowledge stored in the memory of students, less shyness in their powers of speech, and less incapacity in their powers of thinking. Encouraged to state their difficulties about any book, any piece of reasoning and experimentation, or any hypothesis, they would be saved from many pitfalls, whilst stimulating the thought of their fellow-students, if not of their teacher, and giving him new points of view. There is no education like practical application of theories and principles under the supervision of an imaginative and keenly reasoning mind that knows the whole field. Instead of using a textbook the teacher should take the difficulties of his students as texts to elucidate and way marks to guide his dissertations and discussions. Otherwise he is but a pasteboard guide over a Sahara map; a well-contrived automaton would be as good for all practical purposes.

The search for new knowledge is coming; to be acknowledged as the differentiation of the University institution.

It is being quickly discovered n America, and slowly in England, that the only proper differentiation between the university stage and the secondary is research, the direction of the minds and energies of the adult talent of the nation towards additions to our knowledge. What is the use of selecting the finest intellects and detaining them, after a dozen years' training, for three or more years over education, if it is not to set them on the unsolved problems of our country? Every country has plenty of them to solve, quite independently of those that lie before mankind as a whole. And no other country will solve them for her, if she does not solve them for herself. They lie thick in every profession, every sphere of work. Yet here we are frittering away the best talent she is able to produce on the further acquisition of a thousand-times-repeated knowledge. Only those paths are taken that have been trodden by myriads of feet before, although a whole world around lies waiting to be discovered and mapped.

The reason is that our university institutions were modelled on those of the old country, and these were created at first to cover secondary education as well as the advance of learning; the high school did not exist when they arose, and the students for the professions had first to be guided through a high school course. The result is apparent in the Arts curriculum of our colleges; it merely duplicates that of the higher forms of the secondary schools. If our university institutions are to prove the necessity for their existence, they will have to abandon this duplication and set themselves diligently to teaching the students how to find out for themselves. If the conservation of originality, of new variante in character, faculty and idea, be one of the main aims of the primary and secondary systems, the development of page 41 the originalities, the variants so conserved should be the chief aim of that system which has to deal with all the finest and most independent talents of the nation. The students, being the intellectually elect of the country, should be taught to seek their way into the unknown, to deal scientifically with the problems that offer themselves so freely in a new country.

The University institution should be brought into close relation ship with the main industries of the district—an ideal the Canterbury Provincial Council had before it in founding our Agricultural College.

And, that the problems distinctive of our own land may be attacked, the university studies should be brought into close relationship to its industries. Of course there are certain professions that are always with us like the poor, teaching law, medicine and engineering, and they have to be provided for in any case. But New Zealand is essentially as yet a country of primary industries; she can produce infinitely more food and raw material than her population ever needs or can work up, and this will be the case for many generations, thought there will come a time when, [unclear: her] water power being yoked, she will be as essentially manufacturing as England now is. As it is, we have almost ignored in our educational institutions this differentiation.

An idea of it filled the minds of the centerbury Provincial Council when it built and made provision for the Lin-[unclear: coln] Agricultural College. But this has been so far out of touch with the agriculture of the province that it draws large proportion of its students from the rest of New Zealand. Were it is vital as the Guelph College in Canada every farmer in the province who that to keep his sons on the land would think it a privilege to send them thither for some years, and no large [unclear: eeppfarm] or frozen-meat factory or [unclear: llmongery] but would naturally go thither for all its skilled labour and directing talent. What is wanted is research work, experimentation; every youth who attends it should learn not only how to conduct the ordinary farming operations, but how to go on improving them; not only how to do the common practical work of the chemical and biological laboratories, but how to follow up new tracks with regard to the treatment of different soils, the hy-[unclear: ridisation] of the various useful vegetable products, the introduction of new type from other countries, the crossing of breeds of useful animals, the modification of climatic conditions by forestry and other means, and the improved utilisation of foods of the pelts, wool, manures and other products of the agricultural industries. The problems are legion that lie before them demanding solution, and it is the interest of no one to see to their solution. If every young man who passed through the college had his interest in them awakened and his talents developed and directed towards attempting their solution, he would become a pioneer and missionary of agricultural progress, the institution would be crowded from the province itself, and a demand would arise in each great agricultural district for a similar institution. The Canadian college goes still farther, and has lecturing and working institutes in every agricultural centre for the education of the farmer and his wife and his family in improvement of their methods and conditions; and these are hives of experimentation; new grasses, cereals, rootg and manures are sent out to be tried under varying conditions; the results are collected, and the new knowledge arising from them is communicated to all. A further result is that here and there some young man stands out preeminently as an experimenter, and he is drawn on to the staff of instructors.

Next to sheepfarming and dairying stand the flax and timber and fruitgrowing industries. And little or nothing has been done for the training of those engaged in them. Improvement of the processes and arts connected with them is left to haphazard. A forestry school, a school for skill and research in the growth and use of flax, and an orcharding school are institutions as much needed by New Zealand as mining schools. And the laboratories of the university colleges should be schools of pioneers in all these industries. The faculties of the students should be bent on the problems of their own land; they should all be taught to deal independently with what lies near at hand, to develop the passion for adding to knowledge of their own environment, If this were done, there would be no lack of posts for all scientific graduates; as in America, every factory and firm would come after them. It is one of the surest signs of the education of a country being out of relation to its work that the demand for its graduates should ever be in the rear of the supply. If the cream of the original talent of the nation were conserved by the primary and secondary systems and passed on to the colleges, and these set themselves as their main duty the development of its originality in close relation to the great industries, employers would go nowhere else for their skilled and directive assistance, and salaried posts at the end would be the prizes that drew the talent on from stage to stage.

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